Police Salaries….the end of an era

During the last few months, on Facebook, Twitter, and the other sundry social media sites that are shared with friends and police officers, there is constant talk and sometimes outrage at the lack of a pay raise amongst the RCMP officers.

All of it is true, in terms of no pay raise for several years, and the fact that the Federal Liberals are now dragging their heels in terms of coming to an agreement. Statistics say that the Mounties are 72nd out of 80th in the police “universe”, which is the lowest that has been seen in recent memory. The RCMP members are thinking that an anticipated police union may lead them out of this quandary, and restore them once again to a salary befitting the “National” police force.

At one point in the 1990’s, the Federal Government of the day and the RCMP had a memorandum of understanding that stated that the RCMP would never lead in salary, but would not fall below 3 or 4th in the police universe. That was eventually ignored, and there have been many ups and downs since, in terms of salary levels, including wage freezes during times of austerity.

Currently Bill C-7 which would give the RCMP the ability to unionize is sitting in limbo, waiting for the re-introduction to Parliament. However, the RCMP members are having a hard time getting organized and now have two police political groups fighting for their support. The RCMP for their part in trying to slow this process down, will not allow the use of office computers to help in that organization.  Of course it is difficult to organize a group which has never been organized in a formal fashion, and one that is spread out across Canada. Clearly RCMP management is not going to assist their own members in this organization as the longer they delay it, the longer they avoid some difficult bargaining. The Federal Liberals equally don’t seem to be in any rush.

Meanwhile, the Feds are negotiating with a lot of the Federal public service groups, and they are telling the RCMP they have to wait their turn.

In the next decade it is anticipated that there will be drastic changes coming to the National police force, and other municipal and Provincial forces as well,  as exponential growth in these services come under increased scrutiny.

To understand the issue, one must understand the current levels of salaries and how they got to where they are today.  How does a police officer compare to the other types of employment? Where do they fit in, in comparison to the average family, or individual incomes?

Current Police salaries

Currently an RCMP officer after 3 years makes $82,108

A Vancouver City Police officer after 4 years     $83,000

A Saskatoon police officer after 5 years              $97,260

A Toronto police officer by 2018 will make        $98,450

In comparison

A lawyer who is a 1st year Associate in a firm   $63,250

An Industrial/Mechanical Engineer                     $61,944

A Mining Engineer                                                   $59,612

In 2014 according to Statistics Canada, the average “family” or combined income:

In Saskatchewan       $77,300

In Ontario                   $73,700

In British Columbia   $72,200

In Alberta                  $102,700

The Average in Canada in 2013 was $76,000

The Average individual salary in Canada is $47,914.00

The figures may seem distorted to be sure; is it possible that a police officer, with no or little education other than high school, and with a 6 month or less training period, is making, within 3 years, a salary greater than all family incomes in Canada (with the exception of Alberta). And not just a little bit more, the  “individual” RCMP officer is making a salary 12% higher than a “family” living in British Columbia.

Economists and the federal government consider middle class at its highest to be $120,000. (If you read my previous blog you would have seen that the average officer working at IHIT in the RCMP is making $154,000 per year with overtime).

In 2011, Statistics Canada said that the top 10% of Canadian society made above $80,400. In other words, currently a 1st Class constable who has 3 years experience in the RCMP, is making in the top 10% of Canadian society in terms of salary.

Of course, it will be argued by many of the profession, that their job is unique, that the dangers, responsibilities and complexities of their jobs make them worthy of these salaries. This could be a lengthy study all by itself, on what are the determinants in developing a relevant and appropriate salary; how do you measure officer safety, responsibility, etc., in order to make that calculation.

As an example, if one looks at the “danger” factor,  the most dangerous professions in Canada are not policing jobs; in fact the five most dangerous industries according to the Workmen’s Compensation Boards of Canada are, fishing and trapping, mining, logging, forestry, construction, and transportation and storage.

If safety and danger were the biggest factors, why is it that prison guards who are in positions where there safety is being threatened on a constant basis while their average salary is only $45,000 per year. Clearly there are other factors that need to be considered.

For years, the RCMP salaries have been based on a ratcheting scale, on what other police entities earn in Canada, often referred to as the “police universe”.  These other police services are unionized without a legal ability to strike, so inevitably resort to some arbitration process. Over time these arbitration processes seem to grow these salaries. Arbitrators generally favour a union over management, and in trying to establish a “fair result” usually increase the salaries at some level.  The other Agencies then determine their contract stance based on the latest won arbitration, and the ratcheting process or cycle begins.

The RCMP simply tags along for the ride. If Calgary is higher, or Edmonton, or Toronto, then the RCMP salaries go higher. All members of the public service in Canada have for years, used this ratcheting arbitration process to their benefit.

However, Governments and municipalities are now beginning to feel the pinch, and it is becoming a bigger topic amongst officials in City Halls throughout Canada.

Last week in Winnipeg, city counsel said that they need to consider reducing the number of police officers and that the union needed to be more reasonable in their demands. When contract talks fell apart the union once again applied to go to arbitration. They are seeking 3.5% to 4.0% wage hikes.

In 2005 the police budget in Winnipeg was $127 million and in 2015 is $216 million, an average annual increase of 7.5%. The police numbers from 2005 to 2015 had increased by 17%, and the police ratio to civilians increased to 1/509. Also, in this 10 year period the crime rate dropped by a staggering 40.65%.

In Toronto last week it was revealed in article in the Globe and Mail that 52% of Toronto Police Service made over $100,000.  600 more individuals joined the list in 2014 over 2013. Again there are complaints that the “leap-frogging of salaries” is a big part of the problem, along with generous overtime, and secure pensions. Again they point to the falling crime rate and state that these are  “contradictions that no city can tolerate”.

Of course, good salaries and benefits attract new employees. Canadian Business magazine ranked the job of police officer as the 16th best job in Canada sandwiched between an Aerospace engineer and an economic development director. They cite the level of salary vs level of education, and the security of the job itself. They point to pay increases of 17% from 2009 to 2015.

Workopolis listed as the top “surprising” jobs which can make over $100,000.00; teachers, police, firefighters and paramedics. So it is not just police but all first responders that have been beneficiaries of this ratcheting growth in salary dollars.

Suffice to say, for the last twenty years or so, policing as a “profession” went from a working class level job to one of high middle or upper income.

There is the argument that can be made, as in Canada, this has been a golden age for all. In Canada in all fields, saw a 135% increase in annual salaries from 1970 to 1980.

Yes, the RCMP has fallen behind in terms of the police “universe”, but in the real world universe they have been doing remarkably well for the last several decades. Politicians are starting to take notice.

We have now reached a stage where administrators of City budgets, and Provincial Ministers are beginning to look at this unimpeded growth and they are considering ways to start pushing it back. The salaries are out of line with the general public in many ways. Between 2000 and 2010 spending in the Canadian government increased by 25% but spending on police increased by 52% according to Statistics Canada. Police salary increases for the most part exceeded inflation during this time period which itself was at 29%.

The RCMP and the other agencies are going to need to develop their arguments as to how and why they deserve such lucrative compensation. This is not to say that they don’t deserve a pay raise, but they need to be prepared to articulate their job functions, especially in light of declining crime rates. Simply being a “first responder” is not enough.

Policing in general has always suffered from a lack of financial accountability, a lack of justification for what they often say is their value to society, and they need to get more sophisticated in that argument. The RCMP is already seeing government pulling or tearing at the edges over such things as severance pay.

My guess is that a union for the RCMP, if it ever comes about, will be a devastating blow to the government, in that it will inflate the policing budget, and the individual officers will be facing an up hill battle in terms of salaries and benefits negotiations, as the government struggles to control costs. Keep in mind that police salaries make up about 90% of a police budget. To control costs, salaries will have to come under audit.

Reducing the numbers of officers in the RCMP to counteract this problem, may be premature or alarmist, but it is a real possibility, and the police officers of today need to be prepared to take an active role in their future, and be prepared to conform to a changing economy as the golden era comes to a close. The once blue collar job of policing has become white collar, and caused increased expectations amongst the police themselves.

Demands for more money will attract public resentment, despite the police having a generally favourable perception in Canada, and there will be demands for greater responsibility to both justify and control those costs. Automatic increases will cease to become the norm, and even certain secondary functions police agencies have taken on during times of prosperity will be on very tenuous ground.  It is going to be a difficult time. As Warren Buffett once said “only when the tide goes out do you discover who has been swimming naked”. The value of a police officer and how much society is willing to pay will certainly be the fundamental question.

Photo Courtesy of Government of Alberta via Creative Commons at /www.flickr.com/photos/governmentofalberta/6071163974

(Signing of the 20 year RCMP contract in K Division – Alberta)

EPILOGUE: This week it was announced that the RCMP are finally getting their pay raise which is retroactive. 1.25% dating back to 2015, another 1.25% dating back to January 2016 and a 2.3% market adjustment as of April 2016. So a 4.8% increase overall. Although at first blush, in these economic times,  this would seem to be in line with other pay increases. However, when you look at it in terms of inflation, the inflation rate in 2015 was 1.13% and in 2016 1.43%,for a total in the last two years of 2.56%. So the raise going back to 2015 and 2016 does little more than reflect inflation rates. The 2.3% market adjustment number is the real gain. This is not seen as being enough to move the RCMP up into the higher echelons of the municipal agencies which many were seeking, and there is a growing protest currently underway. It will be interesting if it draws any outside public or government support in light of the arguments made in this column. I wish them luck, but cracks are beginning to show in the RCMP and there is little doubt more will beginning in the next few years.










Time to reduce the number of firefighters?

Each day in downtown Vancouver and other municipalities in B.C, fire crews scream up and down the streets; gargantuan vehicles blasting air horns and sirens, reverberating off every nearby building.  However, in all likelihood they are not heading to a fire. Actually there is a 70 per cent chance they are going to a medical call. How did we get to this state of confusion, where the fire department is taking ambulance calls?

The cost of these daily and nightly  sojourns,  with million dollar fire trucks,  four or five fire personnel usually in tow, seems at the very least to be a misappropriation of resources. Most times they are going to a traffic accident, or to a downed individual suffering from too much alcohol, or too many drugs. They are of course usually joined by other fire vehicles, and maybe a supervisors vehicle for good measure. Upon arrival, they proceed to block multiple lanes of traffic, parking their vehicles and placing their traffic cones at 45 degrees, in different directions. Invariably, an ambulance will then attend as well.

The victims of an overdose or other medical issue is often dwarfed by the numbers of personnel and the towering vehicles parked in every direction. The fire personnel once relieved by the ambulance, often stand around, conversing with their fellow workers, seemingly unaware and unconcerned of the ensuing traffic jams, and usually in no apparent hurry to move on. The scene seems incongruous.

This  is not a firefighters traditional mandate and now the use of firefighters to answer medical calls is beginning to garner attention in many financially strapped municipalities in the U.S.  Even, in Canada, places like Toronto are re-assessing this perversion of the way these resources are used and shared with the traditional emergency health services community. They are quickly realizing that this abuse of scarce monetary resources needs to be addressed, that this is not a cost-effective way to use the fire departments.

In  Vancouver, there are currently 20 Fire Halls, with a total of about 800 employees. By their own statistics 70% of their calls are now medical calls to individuals or to car accidents.  How is that if fire calls have been declining to such a large degree, why are we not slowing down the growth of the fire department? It could be argued that we now need only 30% of what was needed many years ago.

Declining fire calls has led to the fire department, needing to justify itself in terms of resources, branching out into other territory. The route of least resistance was to grow toward was the medical call, or the call for rescue services.

So they have gradually embarked into other areas with developments like the “jaws of life” which gives them reasons to attend motor vehicle accidents, or carrying defibrillators, and training their staff to a higher level of medical expertise, which allows them to take medical calls. Coincidentally while fire calls were declining the Fire Department changed its name to the more expansive “Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services.

The fire department during this current Fentanyl crisis is using this as an opportunity to talk about their over growing workload, no time to train, complaining of “burnout”, even asking for further resources. One article extolled the need for an officer dedicated to dealing with PTSD for these over-worked fire personnel.

There is little dispute that medical calls are keeping some stations busy. At Firehall #2 in Vancouver,  in the heart of the downtown Eastside, monthly calls have doubled in the last four years, and now amount to sometimes 20 calls per day on a 10 hour shift, or 30 calls per 14 hour night shift.

Certain halls are busy with these medical calls, but there are also many sleepy fire halls in the region. Fire halls in West Vancouver for instance would be hard pressed to complain about being over worked. I spoke with one West Van fireman who in 27 years had never been to a “structural fire”, although had been to many accidents and medical calls.

And these fire personnel are not cheap.

In an article in the Georgia Strait who obtained FOI information from the City of Vancouver with reference to fire department salaries they learned:

In 2013 Vancouver’s Fire Chief was the highest paid employee in the city with a salary of $347,762. (but was expected to decrease in 2014). There were approximately 125 fire personnel working under him that were making over $100,000.00 in 2013.


It should be noted that the overtime issue in B.C. runs across all emergency personnel lines, and is a singular problem in police services, paramedics and fire services. Paramedics, firefighters and police in B.C. are thanks to overtime, scooping up salaries well in excess of $100,000.00.

There is increasing attention being paid to the fact that modern equipment and new building materials is reducing the number of fires, and the costs of these fire departments are reaching astronomical levels.

Arbitrations are also keeping fire salaries high for one of the most under-worked professions. Often those salaries are in excess of the increases seen in other public sector jobs.

In smaller cities the Fire Department budget often amounts to a quarter of the overall budget.

Fire fighting has become a very desirable job, and firefighters rarely leave. Hundreds of applications are received every year for the few openings that come up.

Working conditions are good. Many firefighters having a second job because of the amount of downtime, and often have the luxury of sleeping during their night shifts. Twenty-four hour shifting is being used in some areas, or is often being pushed for by fire personnel. From a common sense perspective it seems illogical to be able to work a “24” hour shift, but of course it is possible in firefighting because of the extraordinary amount of downtime. They are often filling their downtime by preparing meals, working out, and polishing and servicing equipment. It is not uncommon to find them cruising in their big rigs and shopping for groceries or on a “patrol”through Kits beach.

In Toronto, in 2012, the city changed the protocols to send ambulances rather than firefighters to over 50 different types of medical emergencies. The next year the City staff recommended closing four halls and cutting 84 fire fighter jobs. While at the same time they hired an additional 56 paramedics who make a lesser salary, with an average of $65,000 in Canada.

A paramedic salary is lower than the average firefighter, as firefighters are designated as essential services in this Province, upping the ante in terms of salary bargaining.

Paramedics across Canada make between 65-$90,000. Ambulance vehicles run around $300,000 whereas fire trucks start about the same price and the larger trucks easily go over $1million.

Why this is not being done in British Columbia can partly be explained by the fact that there are two very different bureaucracies at work here. The city pays the Fire Personnel, while the Province pays the Paramedics. The two governments need to come together to work out a coherent untangling of mandates, and a cost sharing or savings sharing formula that is applied equitably. You would be increasing the direct costs to the Province but saving costs for the taxpayers of Vancouver. Some put back may be required from the City to the Province.

In November 2016 the BC Government put in another $5 million to the paramedics due to the Fentanyl crisis. However, if they truly want to make a difference and potentially save monies, we need to reduce the number of firefighters and close some of the halls, while at the same time increasing increase the number of paramedics and ambulances. Maybe not a 70% cut, as that would throw the fire department into paroxysms of fear, but but at least an effort must be made to get the need for fire services down to a number more reflective of the actual need for their services.

It is not news to fire department administrators, that the reduction of fires is a threat to their livelihood and job descriptions. Their ability to earn a substantial living is being threatened.

Is it time to go back to the original intention and mandate of the fire services? Reduce the number of firefighters, and reduce the ancillary major equipment such as $1million dollar fire trucks responding to calls. This is not a radical proposal, but one which will go against public perceptions. The media duly report every puppy rescued from a burning house (some fire trucks are carrying animal respirators – talk about branching out), cover every fire department fund raiser, and endlessly portray the firefighters as risking their lives, and of course promote their calendars.

So be prepared for the backlash. In Toronto the firefighters purchased ads on the local media all claiming of course that the government was putting “lives at risk”. Utter nonsense, as the firefighters themselves say they are merely filling the gap left by traditional ambulance services.

To recommend reducing the number of firefighters will be considered sacrilege, an attack on the emergency services world. I am just saying that we should hit the nail of the problem with a hammer, not with an expensive jack hammer. Everyone loves the image, but it is based on misperception and it is costly.

It is hallowed ground on which the firefighters walk, and you will need to be ready to hose down the flame throwing rhetoric that will come from the affected who will argue that you are “risking” the lives of your fellow citizens. I too am in favour of fire personnel, but we just don’t need that many of them.


** On March 9, 2017 the BC Government announced a $91.4 million funding boost for emergency services, which will go to 6 new ambulances, and 60 new paramedics. I suspect this may have something to do with the election, and not my blog post. Of course there is no cutback on the fire department, that would not do in an election period. **

Image courtesy of Liz West via Creative Commons licence Some Rights Reserved